Cheuk Ka-wai, Cherie – the fairy that converses with the past


Lin Su-Hsing / Associate Professor, Department of Art History, Tainan National University of the Arts


Born in Hong Kong, the young artist Cheuk Ka-wai, Cherie graduated with first class honours in Fine Arts from The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2012, and in 2017 she obtained a Master’s degree in Fine Arts from the same university, where she specialised in meticulous paintings. Cheuk has gained experiences working in various establishments, including: Bejing Fine Art Academy, the department of Fine Arts in Zhejiang University, Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts and Seoul, South Korea. Her works are widely exhibited in group exhibitions and art fairs – “Ink Global” (Hong Kong, 2017), “Contemporary Neoclassic – Contemporary Hong Kong Ink Art” (Daguan Gallery, Taipei, 2017), “Ink Asia” (Hong Kong, 2016), “Being and Inking — Documenting Contemporary Ink Art 2001-2016”, Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art | RMCA, Guangzhou (Guangzhou, 2016), “A Legacy of Ink: Lui Shou-kwan 40 Years On” (Hong Kong 2015), ”Senses – Exhibition of works by young emerging HK artists” (Hong Kong, 2015).


One could easily see that Cheuk Ka-wai’s meticulous paintings are influenced by Song dynasty court paintings, emphasising on delicate brushworks and colours which are elegant and sophisticated. However, she does not limit her attention on the representation of light and space, instead, focuses on the atmospheric surroundings – a nature that understands the unpredictable essence of time. The triptych “Everything Flows” presents a poetic fantasy world with the scrupulous composition, strange tree branches, decorative waves and flocks of birds flying in the moon light. One could see the mysterious relationship between creatures in the universe, which seem to be closely related yet distant.


The never-changing conversation between men and nature has always been the subject of interest to all artist in China, whilst Cheuk Ka-wai converses with nature and antiquity with her brush. Located in the remote countryside of Hong Kong, Cheuk’s studio provides her the opportunity to establish a close connection with nature. The artist is able to capture the world in reality and in her fantasy. The compositions of “Just for the Moment”, “A Daydream”, “Hare of Inaba in the Wonderland” and “Alex’s Paradise” are moderately confined by the concept, yet the pictures are lively and energetic, indicating the artist’s phycological state of mind.


The hill censer (boshanlu) in “Alex’s Paradise” is lavishly decorated with mountains and rivers with houses, bridges and animals among the landscapes. The Daoist cave paradise and Penglai, island of immortal fairyland are closely associated with traditional landscape paintings. The decorative golden clouds on the censer are similar to those from the early dynasties, and the base is formed of a bird with its head and tail held high in the Western Han fashion, spreading its wings as if to take off and fly away; and the sun and moon in the sky are also an indication to the godliness of the setting. Cheuk’s paintings do not restrict themselves to the “historic” components, but the artist presents diverse contemporary elements through traditional techniques. Just like the tall street lights within the painting, the hill censer and the animated dogs are energetic and miscellaneous, bringing the viewers from fantasy to reality.


Cheuk Ka-wai’s interests in “history” is not limited to Chinese literature. “Hare of Inaba in the Wonderland” borrows the Japanese mythological tale from Records of Ancient Matters (Kojiki). The artist reconstructs the ancient subject and applies the unsymmetrical yet smooth decorative fashion on the design of the fans, successfully giving the image a new understanding and visual creativity.


Apart from the meticulous painting techniques from the Song dynasty, Han arts and Japanese paintings, Buddhist philosophy has always played an important role in Cheuk’s works, with “Earthly Encounters” series being the finest example. The series takes inspiration from the “Six Gunas” in the Heart Sutra: form, sound, smell, taste, touch and thought. The strong contrast between movement and stillness, and the realistic depiction which emphasises on the atmosphere in “Earthly Encounters – Sound” all showcase the painter’s thorough understanding of Song dynasty paintings. The gold fish swimming towards the waves below is like a little fairy which had just regained freedom from a jading cage. The out of blue appearance of the creature is humourous and delightful, successfully portrayed the spirit of traditional Chinese paintings. Cheuk’s vibrant and amusing representation of zen can also be found in “Everything you need will come to you at the perfect time” and “The Story Begins”.


Merging classical techniques and contemporary subjects, Cheuk liberally takes traditional elements and gives them new explanations where each stroke is filled with delicate eastern charms. Many of her works appear to be innocent, but as a matter of fact there are highly complex and symbolic meanings hidden behind the surface waiting to be discovered.